Review: Neil Young – Peace Trail

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Even after 37 records, Neil Young's still got it – Peace Trail is another rock gem with the addition of session musicians Jim Keltner and Paul Bushnell.

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Like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Neil Young has been one of the mainstays of the folk rock genre since debuting with Buffalo Springfield in 1966 and releasing his self-titled debut record in 1969. He has also had occasional stints with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and has collaborated most prominently with the band Crazy Horse, however recently he has used Promise Of The Real as his backing band.

For Peace Trail, neither band contributes. Instead, Young enlisted session musicians Jim Keltner (drums) and Paul Bushnell (bass) to record over four days one of his rawest records to date. A majority of its 10 tracks were recorded in just one or two takes, which isn’t out of character for Young – as a musician and a technology mogul, he is renowned for championing the ‘real’ production of music in a digital-free environment, entailing recording sessions that don’t involve musicians and their instruments being over-cut and over-dubbed. 

Showcasing his famed distorted over-acoustic dichotomy alongside harmonica-induced melodies, the beauty of Young’s 37th studio album is that it doesn’t sound like Young’s typical fare, with an atmospheric aura surrounding that I definitely haven’t heard before in his vast discography. Whether this stems from the particular three-piece of Young, Keltner, and Bushnell or just Young experimenting with his sound, Peace Trail is all the better for it. There is folk rock at its heart, but Young adds a twinge of seemingly Western-inspired melodies, especially with the eponymous opening track. He also adds his usual social commentary to the record, with tracks such as ‘My Pledge’ speaking of being “lost within this new generation” and the truth being hidden on ‘Texas Rangers’ (“Look, can you see things, when they show you / What they want you to know / Watch what you don’t see, on the TV / When they hide the truth”).

As Young sings on the second track, “Well I can’t stop workin’ cause I like to work / When nothing else is going on / It’s bad for the body but it’s good for the soul / Might even keep you breathing when you lose control.” As a musician, Young is known for not caring what the critics think, continuing to do it all just for the music. Peace Trail exemplifies this entirely, doing exactly what he does best – and we’re lucky to still have such a legendary artist who is as enthusiastic about recording new songs as he was when he first began.

Peace Trail is out now via Reprise Records

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A film student stuck in a 90s timewarp of FBI agents, UFOs, conspiracy theories, alternative rock and grunge.

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